Understanding addiction to hard drugs requires understanding gateway drugs. Drug abuse continues to be a significant problem in the United States and around the world, with millions of people suffering injuries, debilitated health, and death every year because of an addiction to illegal drugs.
It should be noted, however, that addiction to a specific drug does not always start out by using that particular drug itself. In fact, in many cases, people become addicted to other drugs or use them before moving on to something “harder” such as cocaine or methamphetamines. Many of these “lighter” drugs are perfectly legal, which means that it is all too easy to become addicted to them and then to fall into the habit of using other narcotics.
Drugs that are less harmful than other drugs but may make people more likely to try or become addicted to more dangerous substances are known as gateway drugs. Although there remains some disagreement as to which drugs actually qualify as gateway drugs and even whether the gateway drug theory is completely verifiable, an increasing body of evidence indicates that there are substances that when consumed make it more likely that the individual who consumes them will become addicted to other drugs in the future. The most common gateway drugs are tobacco and alcohol. Another relatively common form of gateway drug is inhalants. Various inhalant substances are prescribed or are available over the counter for the common cold, asthma, and other diseases. Studies show that younger youth who abuse inhalants are more likely to become addicted to other drugs in the future. This serves as a caution to adults: If you become too dependent on an inhalant, you may find yourself tempted to abuse other drugs in the future.
Perhaps the most commonly consumed gateway drug is alcohol. This is due to a variety of reasons, including the facts that it is readily available and that there is not much social stigma related to alcohol consumption. A 2012 study by the University of Florida highlights alcohol’s role as a gateway drug. University researchers contacted a representative sample of high school seniors and asked them about their use of drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, and other narcotics. The results clearly showed that students were more likely to move on to harder drugs after having tried alcohol and tobacco. But the prevalence of alcohol use was particularly notable, as more than 70 percent of students reported using alcohol. These students reported that drinking to excess made them more willing to try other drugs, and this has definite implications for older adults. Drink too much on a regular basis and your inhibitions might be lower when you are in a situation that makes it possible for you to try illegal drugs.
The scientific data to back up nicotine’s role as a possible gateway drug is quite compelling. A 2011 study indicated that nicotine use can cause certain changes in the brain that make getting addicted to a drug such as cocaine much easier. Those who have used nicotine exhibit a greater response to cocaine, which means that its addictive effects are likely more powerful among smokers and other nicotine users than among those who never consume nicotine. Moreover, nicotine is the second most commonly used legal drug after alcohol, so those who are tempted to smoke regularly should be aware that their habit could be conditioning their brains for drug addiction.
Finally, cannabinoids such as marijuana and hashish can condition the body to make it more susceptible to harder, illegal drugs. After years of disputed research into the role of cannabinoids as gateway drugs, a recent study by Yale University showed that marijuana use and later addiction to prescription painkillers (opioids) seem to be connected quite strongly. This is especially true in the case of women, for while the study’s results comparing alcohol and tobacco use and opioid abuse in women found little, clear evidence was gathered that female marijuana smokers are more likely to abuse opioids later in life. Smoke marijuana or hashish and you may find yourself more likely to become addicted to painkillers later in your life.
Those who partake of gateway drugs may be endangering their health greatly in the present and opening themselves up to the abuse of harder, more serious drugs in the future. Stay educated on this topic and keep away from gateway drugs so that you will be better able to fight against the temptation of harder narcotics.